The Hill and the Hall – June, 2008

June 6, 2008

Each Friday, Paul McMorrow will take you inside the smoke-filled rooms and darkly-lit corridors of government to bring you the hottest and juiciest political tidbits. This week: Jim Marzilli’s epic breakdown; Michael Flaherty pounds his chest; and birthday wishes for Tim Murray.

Congratulations, State Senator Jim Marzilli: You are officially the best thing to happen to the Beacon Hill press corps since Marie St. Fleur. Topping the St. Fleur implosion is a chore and a half, for sure – but it’s nothing a crazedweepymarathon grope-and-run spree that ends your political career can’t top.

Exclaiming, “Oh baby. You’re so beautiful. Your body is so perfect,” then running the wrong way up a one-way street, disrupting traffic, terrorizing a hot dog stand, weaving in and out of cars parked in a Lowell garage, being threatened with pepper spray by law enforcement officers, then sobbing to those very same officers that, “his life was over, that they were destroying him,” and adding, “I can’t believe this is happening. She was flirting with me, I was flirting with her” … that’s the stuff of legends right there.

As is propositioning a woman only to be told, “Take 20 dollars and go get a hooker.”

As is the fact that when he was collared, Marzilli identified himself to the fuzz as Dorchester State Rep. Marty Walsh. (We like to keep our lawyers happy, so go ahead and add an “allegedly” to pretty much every sentence in this post. Cheers.)

And on the litigious front, here’s a question for the embattled, now-hospitalized pol’s lawyer, Terrence Kennedy: Does this mean that your complete and total denials, and insistence on innocence, no longer stand?

Thanks to Marzilli, there was no other news on Beacon Hill this week. Everybody’s been trading sordid details and wondering aloud how Marzilli could’ve gone from beleaguered House backbencher to triumphant senator to soon-to-be-unemployed perv so quickly. Thus, we don’t have to worry about thereemergence of legalized gambling, or the budget, or the coming implosion of the state’s health care regime. Or even, oddly enough, sex offenders.

Almost forgot. There was also this statement to the cops: “I really screwed up.” And – oh hell, why not? – “You don’t understand … I’m a state senator.”

When asked why Marzilli would pretend to be him, Walsh (who’s clearly not as sweaty or bearded as the alleged perp from Arlington) answered: “I don’t know why he used my name. I feel bad for his wife, his family, I feel bad for the victims … I don’t respect any man who intimidates a woman, gropes her. Obviously, he’s an individual with some problems. I hope he gets it.”

State House News, which got Walsh’s statement, also reported that, when Walsh entered the House chamber today, he was “greeted teasingly,” “slapped on the back and surrounded by colleagues.”

All of this fun with scandal is assuming, of course, that it’s not a brain tumor or a bad case of Ambein gone wrong that’s afflicting the senator – which is to say, it’s assuming that the super-sordid GOP doesn’t have the market cornered on sexual deviancy. Time will tell.

May we have a word, Secretary of State Bill Galvin? Great. Thanks. So, not sure if you’re in the mood for taking advice from us at this moment, but here’s some anyway: This might be a good way to keep your name in the paper. This (first item) and this, however, are not. Not this week, anyway.

Maybe the timing’s coincidental, maybe not, but a week after being smacked with an unflattering Dorchester Reporter story about his chilly-looking feet, city councilor Michael Flaherty returned to attracting attention to himself by making guttural, though mayoral-sounding noises.

He jumped at the chance to fire a wicked shot at Mayor Tom Menino in the aftermath of the Herald’s DPW-BBQ exposé, saying, “Changing work practices requires a change among the leadership who have let BBQs and cable-watching go on while Boston residents are pinching pennies to afford the salaries of these workers.” Right in the ribs. Well done.

As was this: Flaherty was one of just four councilors to vote against a mildly controversial $4 million tax break that Menino recently engineered for JP Morgan’s new Southie offices. In doing so, he blasted the absence of a “fair and equitable process” for doling out the coveted property tax breaks, adding that the city shouldn’t be handing out free money when it might run out of cash and have to close schools next year.

The three councilors who joined Flaherty in opposing the tax breaks were Chuck TurnerCharles Yancey and Sam Yoon. (Wait a second – assailing fat cat corporations and developers? Vague talk of fairness and equity? Casting hopeless losing votes? We might have just found Felix Arroyo’sTeam Unity replacement.)

Flaherty also voted against Hizzoner’s parking fine increase. Only Yancey took that stand with him. Still, the futile votes might help Flaherty stake out some angry, populist ground, should he find himself in a race that requires such verbal ammunition. That, combined with the triumphant return of hisbelligerent-sounding press releases, means we might have a dog-on-bear attack to enjoy after all.

Quick fundraising update: Flaherty raised $35,450 last month. He spent $30,220 of it – more than half on consulting fees and a mail blast.

Little Miss DorchesterOlivia Baldassari, addressed the Boston City Council on Wednesday. We’ll skip the pleasantries, and skip right to the meat of her remarks: “I hope the weather turns around, and soon the Scooper Bowl will be open.” Best speech we’ve heard delivered in the Council Chambers all year.

The Hill and the Hall sends along happy birthday wishes to boy-mayor-turned-LG Tim Murray. Hope your road test goes swell!

June 13, 2008

Each Friday, Paul McMorrow will take you inside the smoke-filled rooms and darkly-lit corridors of government to bring you the hottest and juiciest political tidbits. This week: Dismissing the Deval Will Leave talk; the lumbering casino giant rumbles; while Brad Jones tries to wake the slumbering legislature.

This week, bizarre sexcapades yielded to the palace intrigue, paranoia, denunciations of the plebiscite, and scrambling to cram in work before vacation that normally dominates Beacon Hill. It was just as well. Journalists and political gossips had more than enough material to work with, and nobody had to stoop to make off-color jokes about shaving. On with the spectacle!

Governor Deval Patrick, who, thanks to Sal DiMasi’s well-documented problems with everything, has been enjoying a nice respite from notebook-wielding vampires, found himself back on the cover of the Herald this week. And it wasn’t because of the twenty best ways he’s saved Massachusetts, either.

The paper reported that, even though the governor has repeatedly said he won’t follow Barack Obama to Washington, Tim Murray has been raising a butt-load of money recently, and “and other top Democrats who could succeed him – including Attorney General Martha Coakley and Treasurer Tim Cahill – have been building their war chests with an eye toward a potentially bruising and wide-open 2010 race.” The next day, Patrick advisor Michael Goldman reiterated that, no, the governor isn’t going anywhere.

So why won’t this storyline die? Has the state’s political sense of self worth been so irreparably damaged by three pretty rich boys who couldn’t wait to leave us that we can’t believe we’ve finally found somebody who loves us for us?

“He laughs every time it comes up – over and over,” says a Beacon Hill operative who’s close to the administration. “He’s got to be looking in the mirror, thinking, what part of no don’t they get? He likes what he’s doing and he’s very settled. And he’s cognizant of the fact that the last three Republican governors” – funny that, in conversation, few on Beacon Hill even acknowledge Jane Swift anymore – “cut and ran. People don’t realize that, when you’re a Democratic governor, you want to stay here because you can actually govern. It’s a lack of understanding that being a Republican governor in a Democratic state isn’t any fun. Unless you’re on a trade mission.”

The operative compared the speculation over Patrick’s future to “hot stove baseball talk” – the stuff you talk about to see you through the lean months, until the real action returns in September and November. “I understand people covering their bets, contributing to the Attorney General. Why wouldn’t they? If she’s not the governor, she’s still going to be the AG. Tim Cahill raised a lot of money under a Republican governor, and he’s raising a lot of money under a Democratic governor. What’s changed?”

Reps on Dan Bosley’s economic development committee are asking themselves the same question this week. Three months ago, the committee effectively sank Patrick’s casino proposal. And now, here we are, with the administration once again declaring that casinos are inevitable, and skulkingtowards a compact with the Mashpee Wampanoag under the cloak of that inevitability. What’s changed here is actually a loaded question. In one corner, everything has. And in the other, nothing. Here’s why.

Last week, the feds backed off a longstanding threat to crack down on bingo slots – the magical alchemic machines that squeeze casino-ish action out of church hall bingo nights. The decision gives the Mashpee significant leverage over the state, and they can now threaten to go over the state’s head and open a Middleboro slots hall – assuming the feds approve their land-taking – if the legislature doesn’t hand them full-blown Vegas-style gambling.

Patrick’s people have long soiled themselves over the prospect of the Mashpee going it alone, so it’s no surprise that last week’s decision has brought them closer to the tribe’s negotiating table. The administration might not be talking numbers yet, but that doesn’t mean they won’t.

Especially because, back home, nothing’s changed. The economic pressures that first forced the governor into the gambling industry’s withered, track-marked arms haven’t disappeared in the wake of the legislature’s March casino vote. If anything, they’ve gotten worse. If the governor’s going to make headway on his big-ticket agenda – lower property taxes, growing the biotech industry, and overhauling education – he needs new cash and lots of it, the Beacon Hill operative says.

Gambling was, “the fourth option on the table,” and since the legislature has largely nixed the notion of squeezing cash from telecom companies,corporations, and restaurants, “it’s got to come from somewhere. It’s never been about casinos. It’s about revenue. It’s about Patrick being able to deliver on his promises to lower property taxes and send more money to cities and towns. To do that, there has to be a pot of money.”

One problem with that equation: The more the legislature spends, or talks about spending, the more they invite total, unmitigated disaster. “We’re fighting over nickels, and we risk losing real dollars,” Minority Leader Brad Jones argues. He compares his legislative colleagues to “a compulsive eater who knows he shouldn’t keep eating, but he does because he just can’t help himself.” And the fatter the bottom line gets – tax collections are a billion dollars above projections this year, but all that money’s spoken for already – the more, Jones warns, voters will be tempted to lash out by eliminating the income tax in November.

“There will always be a segment of the population that thinks you should tax the air you breathe and the feelings you have,” Jones says. “And there’ll always be others who say you can’t tax anything. But the big chunk in the middle is starting to think, you’ve gone too far. They voted to go to five percent, and we said no. People up here need to understand what’s motivating people to think about something so extreme. You’d better hope it’s a warm October. Because, in the week before Election Day, if people go to the grocery store, then fill up their car, then go home and open up their heating bill, they’re going to vote yes. And these guys don’t get it. To fight for those extra bucks, we’re risking losing $12 billion.”

How is the other side of the aisle – the side that actually has the votes to put tough talk into motion – react to the possibility of losing all that cash? Theybeg and plead. And if that doesn’t work, apparently, it’s no matter. We’ll just play Florida – or is that Zimbabwe? – with the vote.

This week, House Speaker Sal DiMasi told the Metrowest Daily News, “I find myself hard-pressed to say that I would try to completely implement an elimination of the income tax.” That’s points for honesty there. But certainly not for tact.

“The speaker’s comments could potentially feed support for this question,” Jones says. “We can’t be cavalier, and brush aside the sentiment and substance of why this question might pass. This approach, that we could care less because we’re going to do what we want – it’s like having the person you beat on Election Day show up to take the oath of office.”

Wire services contributed to this report.

June 20, 2008

Each Friday, Paul McMorrow will take you inside the smoke-filled rooms and darkly-lit corridors of government to bring you the hottest and juiciest political tidbits. This week: While the parents are away, the kids will play; John Kerry may not have the people, but he’s got the cash; andMichael Flaherty continues to antagonize the mayor.

Between the Bunker Hill Day holiday, the Green’s run for 17, and the hazy celebration that followed, absolutely nothing got done on Beacon Hill this week. It didn’t hurt that the three people who make the State House halfway functional were in California, courting biotech bigwigs and learning the virtues of gifts from big pharma, while whooping it up for the C’s and delivering speeches on victoorrrryyyyyyy.

(That last one only applies to Gov. Deval Patrick. And we’re totally serious here – fourth item!) Without supervision from the governor, the Senate President and the Speaker, it was House Party on the Hill. Except, instead of staging a crazy-ass dance-off and finding an MC to rock the house, most pols just shuffled through a grueling 15-hour work week. Still, a little bit of news managed to get made.

Mike Widmer tweaked the legislature for sucking at life and budgets, while state officials announced that they wouldn’t be paying hospitals to screw up anymore. And there wasn’t much else – not with mom and dad and dad out of town, and the legislature’s last real bit of work for the year, the budget, tied up in conference committee.

So, in the absence of real news, what are we left with? Polls and idle speculation. So, on with that we go.

WHDH and Suffolk’s pollster announced this week that more than half of Massachusetts voters want their junior Senator, John Kerry, off themainland and out of office. Just 38 percent of respondents said they wanted to see the onetime presidential wannabe returned to Washington. That’s got to be crushing news for Kerry – the man who, by most accounts, is John Kerry’s most fervent supporter. To be loved greatly, and only by oneself … it can’t feel great.

The big loser here is Jim Ogonowski, the Dracut farmer turned failed congressional candidate. He can’t challenge Kerry and add “failed Senatorial candidate” to his resume because he fell 30 signatures short of qualifying for the ballot. (Potheads and Cambridge ladies recently cleared the hurdle Ogonowski stumbled on; where’ve we heard this story before?) Ogonowski was able to give Niki Tsongas fits, but when it comes time to challenge a pol people don’t like, dude’s stuck on the sidelines.

So, instead of a nasty fight about elitism and Mexicans illegals, and the war, we have this: Some guy from Gloucester nipping at Johnny Loser’s heels, throwing all kinds of great class warfare bombs at the sitting Senator, and not standing any kind of chance at allDavid Paleologos, the same pollster who brought us the news about how poorly Kerry is liked, has already all but declared Ed O’Reilly’s insurgency over, saying, “I haven’t seen a scenario where the numbers are close.”

Neither are these numbers: As of March 31, Kerry had $9,253,187 in cash on hand, according to the FEC. (This quarter’s numbers are due in soon.) O’Reilly had $292,024. And that figure is misleadingly optimistic.

Through the end of March, O’Reilly had only taken in $61,294 in donations this election cycle, from just 70 donors. He’s been financing his campaign, almost exclusively, by loaning himself money – $383,422 and counting.

Kerry, by contrast, has raked in close to $1.8 million, from nearly 1300 individual donors, over the past 15 months. The onetime presidential contender has also taken in over $630,000 from a grab bag of lobbyists and PAC’s. It pays to have democracy to sell, apparently.

In fact, according to the last available numbers, only two Senate incumbents had more cash on hand than Kerry – Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh($10,570,767) and Alabama Republican Richard Shelby ($12,778,810). Most of the rest of Kerry’s colleagues aren’t even close. Perhaps O’Reilly should consider moving to Connecticut, where Chris Dodd’s abortive presidential campaign left him with just $89,000 in the bank. What’s the expression? Something about a bear eating a dog?

A bit of mayoral race hotness for ya: Mayor Tom Menino can’t be happy with the way Michael Flaherty continues to bleat about good government. Two weeks after voting against some choice tax breaks in Southie, Flaherty sent out a press release promising to end the BRA’s nasty habit of handing sweetheart real estate deals to the administration’s friends – while, we assume, keeping them out of reach of anybody on the bad boys list.

Wire services contributed to this report.

June 27, 2008

Each Friday, Paul McMorrow will take you inside the smoke-filled rooms and darkly-lit corridors of government to bring you the hottest and juiciest political tidbits. This week:Trav’s bash gets funny; rumors abound involving Deval’s inner circle, but we set them straight; and Bill Weld scares the hell out of us.

A whole mess of pols in expensive suits showed up at the State House on Wednesday to witness the unveiling of a portrait of former Senate President Robert Travaglini. Headliners included former Governor Paul Cellucci, former Pike official and son of Eastie James Aloisi, Boston Mayor Tom Menino, former House Speakers Tom Finneran and Charlie Flaherty, and Travaglini’s first political boss, former AG Francis Bellotti.

The event–seemingly lightened by the unexpected absence of former Gov. Mitt Romney–provided the assembled politicians the forum for what they do best. They cracked wise and busted balls.

Gov. Deval Patrick emotionally recalled that Travaglini was the man who administered his oath of office, saying, “I’ll never forget that day.” He also recalled huddling up with Trav and Sal DiMasi after the election; Trav flatly told Patrick, “I’m out of practice cooperating with the governor.”

Menino took the podium promising to “bury” the guest of honor, “not praise him.”

“You’re finally funny!” the former president shot back. The mayor appeared ready to follow through on his vow, then spied a Senate aide clutching a tape recorder. “Awww,” he moaned, before launching into a grudging, but florid, recitation of Trav’s greatness. Then he paused, staring at the aide, a wide, open-mouthed grin on his face.

And the yuks kept on coming. Finneran speculated, “I’m the only member of the media who has ever been, or will be applauded in this room.” He added, “The mayor told me to be careful of that recorder. I have to be cautious for other reasons – I’m still on probation!” Then he expounded on the profound cultural differences between the Italian-American Senate leader and himself: Trav plied legislators with Pope Juice, while Finneran preferred Johnny Walker Blue.

It was just one of several references to getting tanked. DiMasi ventured to say that the wine they drank in the legislature was much better, “than what you and the mayor used to drink.” Trav claimed that anybody who was thinking about leaving the old neighborhoods had second thoughts once DiMasi succeeded Finneran: “East Boston and the North End? The party goes on all night!”

And Senate President Therese Murray, recalling the meticulous manner in which her predecessor arranged the knickknacks in his office, told a story about breaking into the president’s office one night and rearranging everything in sight. “We climbed out one window and then in yours,” she revealed, adding, “We put all our leftovers in there, too.” Murray also gleefully recounted Trav’s skill at “filling every open clerk and court officer position. He had a full employment office coming out of there.”

The current House Speaker had attendees roaring when he contrasted the continuity between Trav’s time in leadership and Murray’s with the recent transition in the House. Finneran, he said, had told him, “Just try not to do what I did.” DiMasi paused, then confessed, “It hasn’t been easy. You’re rubbing off on me a little too much!”

DiMasi also chided his predecessor’s verbosity. “Tom Finneran took most of my two minutes. Were you speaking for Romney, too?” He paused, setting up the punchline: “You did that during your whole tenure as speaker.”

Trav refused to be upstaged. After being regaled by several rounds of the legislature’s customarygreeting for Italian-Americans – a resounding chorus of “HeyyyyHeyyyyyyy!,” interspersed with the occasional “Woo!” – he began with, “Governor, none of those toll-takers were my guys.”

He paused for applause, then added, “But if you’re looking for an apology from me for providing employment opportunities for qualified residents from impacted communities … I offer no apology.” Then he talked about public service. Then he pulled the curtain off his portrait. It’s a rather massive thing – smaller than the monstrosities belonging to Calvin Coolidge and Horace Mann, but still large enough to put Billy Bulger’s to shame. (There are no gratuitous Abe Lincoln busts or creepy mystery hands in Trav’s portrait, either.)

In the press scrum that followed the ceremony, Trav brushed aside suggestions that, now that he’s legally allowed to lobby his former colleagues, he’ll be roaming the halls frequently. “I don’t have to come up here,” he said. “Yeah,” a reporter shot back. “You just pick up the phone.”

“That’s right!” The former president brushed aside a reporter’s suggestions that his portrait, styled after the classic Brahmin portraits hanging in the Athenaeum, was incongruous with his standing as the chamber’s first Italian-American leader. He did, however, concede one point: The artist, Tom Ouellette, “Could’ve given me a little more hair.”

Suffolk County DA Dan Conley has won a string of murder convictions recently. Does this mean he’s not the devil in a nice suit – and that he’s no longer easy prey for upwardly mobile Boston pols?

A hot rumor hit the internets this week: Governor Patrick’s chief of staff, Doug Rubin, will soon dump the administration for the Obama campaign. Hub Politics cited “unconfirmed rumors afloat” concerning Rubin’s imminent departure, and then speculated about all the great palace intrigue that will follow the resignation.

One problem, though. Rubin said Wednesday that he’s not leaving. Which just goes to show you: When trading in unsourced, unconfirmed rumors, stick to the rumor-mongers you trust. The Hill and the Hall: Your finest source for baseless speculation since, like, seven months ago.

From the Department of How Can We Miss You if You Won’t Go Away?: Mitt Romney may have skipped the ceremony honoring Travaglini, but the preceding night, he was back in Boston and in rare form. The failed presidential candidate headlined a Republican fundraiser, played to the crowd and beat up on his successor for trying to fix education by leading with his heart, not his calculator: “I’d say how much can I spend first, and then I’d design it,” Romney said.

Perennially bored rich guy William Weld was in the house too, and for some reason he called Romney “someone who is inevitably going to be, soon or late, the president of the United States of America.” Halloween’s still months away, Bill. Why try to sew terror now?

Wire services contributed to this report.

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